The seasonal attraction called Ice Castles allows visitors to explore a landscape straight out of the movie Frozen. Open for just a few months on a former farm in the White Mountain town of North Woodstock, N.H., the massive ice installations draw adults and kids alike to a world of sub-zero architecture.
But last spring, as the temperatures rose, a neighbor’s basement looked more like the set of Waterworld, prompting a lawsuit against Ice Castles for allegedly failing to control the runoff from its property.
“It was over 15,500 gallons of water in my basement,” said Kelly Trinkle, who lives in a home built by her grandfather in 1966.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
Trinkle’s lawsuit alleges that last April, snow and ice melt from Ice Castles exited its property, streamed through an abutting property, before pooling in her backyard. From there, the water, she alleges, seeped into her basement.
Video taken by Trinkle shows a torrent pushing through her basement window wells.
“We’re trying all these things, we are like stuffing towels in. And it’s coming in like a waterfall,” she said.
Ice Castles denies that the water that ended up in Trinkle’s basement is from their land. Instead, the company says its castles were “largely still in ice form” in mid-April, when the flooding took place.
“Rather, due to the topography of the land, the water that flooded the Trinkles’ basement came from a large watershed” in the area, wrote the company’s attorney in a statement to NHPR.
The company is also pointing blame at a recently reconstructed culvert that may have directed more water than normal toward the Trinkle property.
The allegations have set off a chilly dispute in North Woodstock, where the Board of Selectmen are siding with Ice Castles. After bringing up the flooding at several public meetings, Trinkle received a letter last December from the town’s attorney requesting that she no longer direct questions about the situation to the Selectboard.
None of the town’s three Selectboard members responded to a request for comment.
Water, Water Everywhere
Trinkle was busy painting a bedroom on April 18, 2019, when she realized she hadn’t checked her heating oil tank.
“I ran down like I usually do, check the oil and I jumped into a foot of water,” said Trinkle.
“It is silent and eerie, and it has all come up from the ground water. Nothing is leaking. And it is freaking me out.”
According to Trinkle and her husband Dan, the house has never had water in its basement.
Together, the couple spent the next two days using a sump pump to get the water out.
Then, just as it is nearly dry, “I heard this water coming in. And I was like, what is that sound? So I went over to the window wells, and there was water flowing down from the window wells, down to the ground,” she said.
At its peak, the water line reached 16 inches in the basement.
With the sump pump unable to keep up, she called 9-1-1, worried about the furnace.
The Woodstock Fire Department arrived.
“Four firetrucks, 12 guys, they come down to our basement, they are like ‘oh my gosh.’ I was like, ‘guys, I don’t know,’” she said.
“They went right out and got all the shovels from their truck, and went into the field and started diverting the water.”
As the firefighters dug trenches, the Trinkles stood in the yard watching, helpless.
Trinkle claims one of the firefighters said to her that the water must be coming from the Ice Castles.
“I was like, ‘oh my god you’re right,’” she said. “And then I was like, ‘oh my god,’ and then, then I got upset. Then I got upset.”
Ice Castles is based in American Fork, Utah, from which it operates six seasonal locations in North America.
Ice Castles rented land in Lincoln, N.H. for five years, before purchasing a farm in North Woodstock, just a few doors down from Kelly Trinkle.
In the winter of 2018, ice artisans used 8.5 million gallons of water to construct the castles, according to the company’s water bill.
Where that water ended come springtime is at the center of the lawsuit.
As her basement continued to flood, Trinkle walked what she alleges is the path of the water, taking her from the eastern edge of the Ice Castles’ property to her yard. She has video that she plans to submit as evidence.
“Wow, this is deep right here,” she can be heard saying as she sloshes through water.
The Trinkles are seeking $100,000 in damages.
The company denies that it is to blame for the flooding, and instead points to nearby wetlands and rainfall in the week before the flooding event.
“The large flow from the watershed, combined with the still frozen ground, resulted in an unusual amount of water flowing toward the Trinkle property,” wrote Courtney Herz, an attorney with Sheehan Phinney, in an email to NHPR.
In court paperwork, two members of the North Woodstock Selectboard affirm the position of Ice Castles, concluding that the water in the Trinkles’ basement was a result of the reconstructed culvert, and not the Ice Castles.
Trinkle sees that as a cover up.
“Because they want the tourism dollars in this small town. Of course they do,” she said. “And I’m not against tourism, but I’m against everybody covering up for Ice Castles flooding my home when I’m a long-time resident. I’ve lived here my entire life, and to cover up a multimillion company who flooded my home. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t sleep at night.”
Right now, Trinkle’s biggest concern isn’t the lawsuit, or the flooding from last April.
It’s what is going to happen this April, when things thaw out again.
A couple of years ago, Trinkle says she took her daughter to tour the Ice Castles at its previous location.
They both loved the experience. But now, she says the effect — the frozen world — is ruined.
“They tout this magical place, and it is really pretty at night with all the LED lights, but I wasn’t too happy. It kind of ruined the fairytale for me to say the least.”